Trump struggles to unify Republicans ahead of matchup with Biden
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[February 26, 2024]
By James Oliphant and Nathan Layne
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Far from uniting the Republican Party as he
claims he has, Donald Trump has been unable to win over a substantial
bloc of voters he may need if he is to take back the White House in a
repeat election match-up against President Joe Biden.
After winning South Carolina’s Republican primary vote on Saturday,
Trump is firmly on track to secure the party’s nomination in the coming
But rival Nikki Haley’s better-than-expected showing in South Carolina
exposed weaknesses on Trump’s flank, particularly among more traditional
Republicans and moderate voters.
Some experts say those voters are more likely to be alienated by Trump's
hardline policies on immigration and other issues and his racist
rhetoric. The possibility of Trump being convicted on some of the
numerous state and federal charges he faces may also deter some of those
Trump has recently described migrants as "poisoning the blood" of the
country. Over the weekend, he claimed at an event that Black voters like
him because of his multiple indictments, comments that triggered a swift
Haley won about 40% support in South Carolina after taking about 43% of
the vote last month in the New Hampshire primary. In both cases, she was
bolstered by independents and some Democrats who took part in the
primary to back her over Trump.
Haley insists she will fight on and argues that a large swath of
Republicans continue to reject Trump.
“There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are
saying they want an alternative,” she wrote in a fundraising pitch to
supporters on Sunday.
Haley says she will stay in the race through "Super Tuesday" on March 5,
when 15 states and one U.S. territory will award delegates to the
Republican Convention. Her campaign said on Sunday she had raised a
fresh $1 million since her loss in South Carolina.
Trump lost the 2020 election to Biden, a Democrat, in part because Biden
was able to pull white suburban voters, who are often more moderate than
rural voters, away from him.
Biden won independents by a sizable gap, 54% to 41%. Millennial and Gen
Z voters also favored Biden.
Those same segments of the electorate have gravitated to Haley in South
Carolina and New Hampshire, raising the question of whether Trump will
be able to reel in those voters once she exits the race.
“If you're Donald Trump, you've got to wonder: Am I going to be able to
carry those people through? Are they going to show up on Election Day
for me in November?” said Dave Wilson, a South Carolina-based Republican
“There is a lot of courting that will have to be done of that vote in
other states if South Carolina plays itself out as a kind of microcosm
of America as a whole."
So far, Trump hasn’t seemed interested in adjusting his rhetoric to
court those voters, nor does his campaign appear to be believe they are
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Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald
Trump gestures after addressing the Conservative Political Action
Conference (CPAC) annual meeting in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S.,
February 24, 2024. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
"I’ve never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right
now," Trump said after his South Carolina win.
Asked for comment, Trump's campaign shrugged off Haley's vote share,
saying she's "the candidate of choice for liberal Democrats and
Trump "is the strongest person to take back the White House," said
spokesperson Steven Cheung, pointing to polls that show Trump
leading Biden in several battleground states that could determine
Trump’s message on the stump over the last several months has been
consistent: hardline stances on issues such an immigration and
foreign policy that appeal most strongly to his conservative base,
which has rewarded him by propelling him to easy victories.
But voters in a general election differ greatly from those in the
The most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken earlier this month, showed
Trump with a 37%-34% edge over Biden, suggesting he could draw
enough support to prevail. But 22% of respondents said they wanted
another choice or would not vote, a group that likely will remain
fluid until election day.
At a rally in Rock Hill, South Carolina on Friday, Trump accused
Haley of staying in the race to damage his chances against Biden.
“All she’s trying to is inflict pain on us so (Democrats) can win in
November," he said.
Wilson was skeptical Trump would be able to modify his combative and
“You're asking Donald Trump to be something other than Donald Trump
if you ask him to kind of change his messaging or change himself. He
doesn't do that,” he said. “But there are a different group of
voters who are looking for a different style of president.”
According to exit polls conducted by Edison Research, Haley edged
out Trump among college-educated voters and claimed 70% of those who
described themselves as moderates.
Those voters are among those most likely to blame Trump for his role
in the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, said Adolphus Belk,
a professor of political science at Winthrop University in South
“Trump does really well with people were strong Republicans or kind
of independent, but lean heavily Republican,” Belk said. “He's going
to have a challenge in the general election with moderate voters who
cannot get over what happened three years ago."
(Reporting by James Oliphant in Washington and Nathan Layne in
Columbia, South Carolina; Editing by Kieran Murray and Lincoln
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